INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Justin Houston knows sacks. They’re his business.
And business always has been good against the Denver Broncos.
One of Chris Ballard’s heavier investments in the veteran free-agent market in March was for Houston. For a two-year, $23 million contract, the Indianapolis Colts acquired a proven pass rusher. Houston piled up 82.5 sacks in eight seasons with Kansas City, including an NFL-best and Chiefs’ record 22 in 2014.
As things turned out, Houston’s arrival in Indy coincided with the team playing four games against the AFC West, his old stomping grounds. His familiarity with Kansas City, the Broncos, Raiders and Chargers couldn’t hurt, right?
“It’s 16 games on a schedule and we play four of them,’’ he said with a smile. “I’ve still got 12 other games left to prepare for, so I wouldn’t say so.’’
OK, but there’s no question a meeting with the Broncos should stir more than a little interest. Of Houston’s 86.5 career sacks – 9th among active players – 14.5 have come in 12 games against Denver. That’s his most against any team. He’s smacked the Broncos with four multi-sack games.
As much as Houston takes a no-nonsense approach when he meets with the media each Thursday, he allowed a bit of levity this week.
He shrugged when informed he had more sacks against Denver than any other team. Asked if he could recite the Broncos’ QBs he’s gotten to, and Houston’s eyes lit up.
“Peyton Manning,’’ he said. “That’s the only one that really sticks in my mind.’’
“Because it’s Peyton Manning,’’ Houston said with a smile.
He faced the Manning-led Broncos three times and generated 5 sacks.
About the other Broncos QBs Houston has sacked?
“Tim Tebow was the first quarterback,’’ he said. “Was Peyton Manning the second?’’
“(Brock) Osweiler,’’ he said. “Who was after that? . . . (Trevor) Siemien.’’
Houston needed help on the fifth: Case Keenum.
The issue of Justin Houston, Denver and sacks is pertinent with the Broncos in town Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Denver’s defense is one of the NFL’s best (4th overall, 8th in scoring) but its offense has been dreadful (25th overall, 29th in scoring). More to the point, the Broncos have allowed 24 sacks, tied for fourth-most in the league.
Joe Flacco has absorbed 23 sacks, including a career-high 8 in last Sunday’s 30-6 home loss to Kansas City. Only Jameis Winston (25), Marcus Mariota (25) and Andy Dalton (24) have been sacked more.
That has been a career-long issue with Flacco, who lacks anything resembling mobility. In 12 seasons and 170 games, he’s been sacked 356 times. That’s seventh-most among active QBs.
Flacco poses a much different style than what the Colts have faced the past two games with the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes and Houston’s Deshaun Watson. Each possesses escapability. Even so, the Colts sacked Mahomes four times and Houston three. Houston’s had 3 the last two games.
For the record, Houston already has had a few up-close-and-personal meetings with Flacco. He sacked Flacco twice in 2012 when Flacco was with the Baltimore Ravens.
“I’m not going to say it will be easy,’’ Houston said of facing Flacco. “We played some quarterbacks that stand in the pocket and we didn’t lay a finger on him.
The Colts were held without a sack and generated little pressure against Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Oakland’s Derek Carr.
“Our job is hard,’’ Houston said. “It’s always hard to get to the quarterback. It’s never easy. Our hands are full.
“We’ve got to stop them from running the ball. They want to run. If we can eliminate the run, that will help us a lot.’’
The Broncos might juggle what has been an inconsistent offensive line. Coach Vic Fangio is considering rotating three players at the two tackles spots: Garett Bolles, Elijah Wilkerson and Ja’Waun James. James started the opener at Oakland at right tackle but suffered a knee injury that has forced him to miss the last six games. He recently returned to practice.
Bolles, the 20th overall pick in the 2017 draft, has struggled at left tackle. He’s been penalized a league-high nine times for holding.
“Right now with Ja’Wuan’s situation, the one thing you have to remember is that he was out six weeks and because it was a knee injury, he’s not in the best shape right now,’’ said Fangio, “so I don’t know if it’s realistic he can go out there and play 65-70 plays. We’ll probably play all three tackles at some point.’’
The Colts are as healthy as can be expected considering they’re heading into their seventh game. The only player ruled out is defensive tackle Carl Davis (hamstring).
Rookie wideout Parris Campbell is one of five players listed as questionable, but he’s expected to return for the first time since week 4 against Oakland. He’s fully recovered after undergoing hernia surgery.
“I feel real good. I’m excited to be back out there,’’ Campbell said.
Missing the last two games has been frustrating.
“That’s the whole reason why I was brought here, to play on Sundays and produce,’’ he said. “When I’m not able to do that, it frustrates me. It’s the nature of the game.’’
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